What is next of kin?

Next of kin is the term used to describe your closest living relative, such as your spouse or civil partner. The UK doesn’t have laws around who you can name as your next of kin, but there are specific rules for who takes responsibility when someone dies.

Next of kin meaning

Next of kin is a term used to describe your closest living relative or relatives. You may be asked to name someone as your next of kin if you’re in hospital, or if you’re taking part in an activity with a certain level of risk – such as a skydive or bungee jump.

In the event of someone’s death, next of kin may also be used to describe the person or people who stand to inherit the most. This is usually the spouse or civil partner, but it could also be their children or parents in certain circumstances.

Who is your next of kin legally in the UK?

As far as UK law is concerned, there isn’t a clear rule around who can be your next of kin, except in the case of children under 18. For children under 18, next of kin is someone who has the legal authority to make decisions on their behalf – such as a parent or legal guardian.

How does the NHS define next of kin?

When someone is admitted to hospital in the UK, they’re asked to name someone as their next of kin. Most hospitals are very flexible with how they define next of kin, allowing you to choose anyone from your partner, to a parent, to your best friend.

If you’re unconscious at the time you’re admitted to hospital, doctors and nurses will try and work out your next of kin. In this scenario, they will usually choose the closest relative they can get in touch with – likely a spouse, parent or adult child.

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Who is the next of kin when someone dies?

When dealing with a bereavement, people often use the term next of kin to describe the closest relative or relatives of the person who died. This is who doctors, nurses and, in some cases, police officers notify first so that they can inform other family and friends.

While there are no official laws in the UK explaining who your next of kin is when you die, the following priority list is generally accepted:

1. Spouse or civil partner If the person who died was married or in a civil partnership, their spouse or civil partner should be considered their next of kin – even if they were separated.

2. Children If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, the deceased’s children should be regarded as their next of kin (except if they are under 18).

3. Parents If the person who died has no surviving spouse or civil partner, and no children over 18, their parents are considered their next of kin.

4. Siblings If the person who died had no living spouse, civil partner, children or parents, then their siblings are their next of kin.

Does the next of kin need to pay for the funeral?

The next of kin is usually the person who takes charge of arranging the funeral. On average, this costs £4,800 in the UK and includes things like hiring a funeral director, sending invitations to family and friends, ordering flowers, and sorting out catering for the wake.

If you would prefer something a bit less traditional, you could arrange a direct cremation with Farewill for just £1,650. You'll then be free to plan a truly personal memorial service that's right for you and your family.

To find out more about our simple cremation service, call Farewill today on 020 3695 2090.

What are the next of kin's other rights and responsibilities?

Hospital treatment and emergencies

The next of kin of a patient in hospital is usually responsible for:

  • Being easily contactable if the situation changes and other people need to be notified

  • Collecting the patient once the treatment has been completed

  • Making sensible decisions if the patient loses capacity

Inheritance and the rules of intestacy

When someone dies without leaving a will, their next of kin stands to inherit most of their estate. Exactly who inherits first, and how much they inherit, is defined by a set of laws in England and Wales called the rules of intestacy.

In order of priority, this is who inherits under the rules of intestacy:

  1. Spouse or civil partner The spouse or civil partner of the person who died inherits the first £270,000 of their estate, plus half of everything over that value.

  2. Children If the person who died was survived by their spouse or civil partner and their estate is worth more than £270,000, their children get an equal share of everything over £270,000. If there is no living spouse or civil partner, the entire estate is divided equally between their children.

  3. Grandchildren If one of the children has already died, their share is divided equally between their own children (the grandchildren of the person who died).

  4. Parents

  5. Brothers and sisters

  6. Half brothers and half sisters

  7. Aunts and uncles

  8. Children of aunts and uncles (cousins)

You can find out more about the rules of intestacy.

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Applying for probate

The next of kin is also responsible for applying for probate when someone dies without a will. This is because they’re the person who stands to inherit the most under the rules of intestacy.

Once the application has been sent to the probate registry and approved, the next of kin will be named as the administrator of the estate. They’ll then be able to access accounts, sell property and distribute assets to any beneficiaries other than themselves.

If you're the next of kin and need help applying for probate, call Farewill today on 020 3695 2090 for a free, no obligation quote.

Note: If the person who died did write a will, the executors of the will are responsible for applying for probate.

What does spouse mean?

Spouse is a word used to describe the husband or wife in relation to their married partner. When there is a bereavement, the surviving spouse usually takes responsibility for arranging the funeral – often with the help of their adult children. If the person who died didn't make a will, the spouse will also need to apply for a grant of letters of administration. You can find out more about this at who can apply for probate.

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